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Opinion: Columnists

Obama's decisions killed immigration reform, twice

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Congress,David Freddoso,Columnists,Immigration,Barack Obama,Analysis

“If people are looking for an excuse not to do the right thing on immigration reform,” President Obama said during his Nov. 14 White House news conference, “you can always find an excuse - we've run out of time, this is hard, the list goes on and on.”

He would know.

Far from being a 'top priority,' immigration became a wedge issue to save for later â€" Obama's trump card for reelection.

On September 30, 2011, Obama gathered his re-election campaign advisors in the White House and presented them with the detailed case he wanted to make to the American people in the coming campaign.

Among other things, he noted: “We made a calculated decision not to push hard for [immigration reform] ... because although it's popular with Hispanics, it's less popular with the rest of the country, especially in an economic downturn.”

This paraphrase of Obama appears in “Double Down,” Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's recent must-read book on the 2012 election.

Now, as Obama tries to change the subject from his flailing health care law to anything else within reach - minimum wage, immigration - this anecdote takes on new relevance and confirms what was already evident about his first-term attitude toward immigration reform.

In 2008, Obama had said of immigration reform, "we need to do it by the end of my first term as president of the United States of America. And I will make it a top priority in my first year as president."

Four years later, having expended no effort whatsoever to keep that promise, he was reduced to making another that was less unequivocal but easier to keep: “I can promise that I will try to do it in the first year of my second term.”

Obama now benefits from the excuse that Republicans control the House of Representatives, and a good number of them (though not all) are hostile to reform.

Obama cannot wave a magic wand now and make immigration reform happen – but there was a time when he could have done so. Instead, he made “a calculated decision.”

Throughout 2009 and 2010, Obama had a solidly Democratic House and a Senate with (depending on the month) 59 or 60 Democratic senators.

As this year's immigration vote demonstrated, it would not have been hard to get the 60 Senate votes he needed, provided there was any sort of genuine bipartisan effort on his part.

But that would have required immigration to be a real legislative priority. Obama laid it aside in his first term in favor of strictly partisan bills dealing with health care and global warming.

Far from being a “top priority,” immigration became a wedge issue to save for later – Obama's trump card for reelection.

In June 2010, the Washington Post reported, Obama gathered liberal Hispanic leaders in the White House and told them to “stop their public complaining” about his failure to act “and instead direct their fire at Republicans.”

The White House planned “to use the immigration debate to punish the GOP and aggressively seek the Latino vote in 2012.”

In electoral terms, this strategy was a success. It also squandered the only serious chance he ever had to reform immigration. It was “a calculated decision.”

Today, immigration reform is being sacrificed for a second time, and on the same altar. In his first term, Obamacare's quick passage was simply more important.

This second time, the sacrifice was an inevitable consequence of the law's very predictable (and predicted) blowback.

If the books close on Obama's time in office without immigration reform, Republicans will surely deserve some of the blame.

But the histories will hopefully remind all that when the chips were down, Obama's predecessor sacrificed political capital in an unsuccessful attempt to reform immigration.

Obama, in contrast, could have reformed immigration, but sacrificed the issue to gain political capital.

DAVID FREDDOSO, a Washington Examiner columnist, is the former Editorial Page Editor for the Examiner and the New York Times-bestselling author of "Spin Masters: How the Media Ignored the Real News and Helped Re-elect Barack Obama." He has also written two other books, "The Case Against Barack Obama" (2008) and "Gangster Government" (2011).
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